Queensland: Tropical Far North, Mission Beach, Cape Tribulation, Daintree
Every September, our family coalesces in the tropical far north of Queensland for our annual warm-up and beach fest. We count ourselves as excessively lucky parents to be granted this time from our daughters’ busy lives. Family is, and always has been, of paramount importance to us, yet even so, we don’t take this event for granted, and treasure each year of its reoccurrence.
And how do we spend our days in this balmy environment? Do we go on fancy tours, or seek out commercially made activities? No. Mainly, we eat lots, swim heaps and do quite a bit of mountain running and beach walking. To let the children dry out for maybe an hour a day, we toss in some reading and puzzles or games. At dusk, it’s time to build another sand fortress.
Just can’t resist a bit of baby porn. Count yourselves lucky that landscape gets a look in here at all.
Every dawn, some of us (changing cast, but I always have a part in this little drama) rise in the dark to photograph the emerging dawn. The evening meal is subordinate to shooting sunset. Mostly, we play with the two centres of attention: young Gussy and Miss Abigail Grace, who, at the tender age of eleven months, seems to know exactly what she wants.
I am happy in this location (Mission Beach), as there is a nice, steep and challenging rising in Clump Mountain National Park, just near to where we stay, so I run this rising twice each day after breakfast, ignoring the injunctions to take water, and wear a hat and suncream. Sadly, I accidentally obey the one that says not to do it in the midday heat. I can assure you that taking this 2 x 4km circuit with its pant-inducing climb at the fastest speed I can manage every day generates quite a good deal of sweat, so maybe it is equivalent to doing it at midday when done at my pace. I come back feeling very hot and bothered, and most definitely ready to dive in the pool and play endless, wet ballgames until lunchtime. This year, Lena did some of the circuits with me; others were solo. A mixture of solo and chatties is nice, and that’s what I had.
On the sixth day, we had Act I, scene II, which meant a change of dramatis personae and of location. One new character arrived, and, sadly, three left. We did have a span of everyone together before the grand exit. Melted and rapidly melting ice-cream seems to dominate my recollection of this part.
Scene II was to take place further north, in the Daintree, firstly at Thornton Beach, and then at Cape Tribulation itself. We arrived at Thornton on dusk, and Lena and Johnny raced to get their swimmers on and have a dip before the sun completely set. “No, no”, cried the people from the cafe seeing their cosies. “Don’t swim there.” What? We’ve always swum here. We were told perhaps in the middle of day, knee-deep or so, and maybe a bit further north than usual this year. I dismissed this as more wolf crying. Everyone howls wolf these days: it’s lost its impact. I got a bit of a shock to learn that someone had actually been eaten on this very beach where we come each year not so long ago. However, once I learned that she had been taken at 10.30 on a very dark night, I reassumed my habitual pleasure, and went in, as ever, thigh deep and watchful; I did not abstain.
Is this a new kind of tree frog? Colourful. Oh no. It’s me, about to dive off this log: such fun.
The following late afternoon, I was off exploring by myself while the others dozed. I climbed around rocky headlands to the north of Nora Creek, searching for (and finding) cute little unnamed beaches. Suddenly, a young angler (from Melbourne, as it turned out) hurried towards me to point out the crocodile swimming a mere 50 metres from the rocks he had just left. It was about 4.5 metres long. Wow. I was very excited to see a real live crocodile swimming in the sea, and close enough to kind of observe it. We hurried over to tell a family with young children playing on a beach to the south. The parents, with more my kind of attitude, sat with the kids to watch rather than shepherding their offspring away. They were in no danger there as long as they didn’t go down to the sand to give the croc a smell of young, tender flesh. The children obediently sat beside their parents, viewing this spectacle, aware of its importance.
The last full day was spent climbing Mt Sorrow, another annual event for me. This is a mountain I do regularly, and like to take at threshold speed. For me, there are few pleasures greater than just being allowed to climb a mountain perched on my aerobic threshold, monitoring my body and my surrounds, working my way at the summit. I love a good workout, and what better place to have one than in the jungle? I saw an amazing number of people this day – it seemed to be de rigueur to climb Mt Sorrow that Saturday – and made friends with many of them whilst waiting for my family up the top, and more on the way down. One guy knew some people from the Tassie bushwalking community. Hardly surprisingly, I knew these people too. I counted 32 people on the mountain, just in the time it took me to do the up and down (less than two hours for the return journey). But don’t be turned off by the crowds. It never felt crowded – but perhaps it is an indication that the local tourist authorities should provide another track up one of the many other mountains on tap. It would keep people like me in the area an extra day. Twelve of the people I met were en route to Mt Pieter Botte, which has just lurched up my bucket list to near the top for next time.
On the final day, we were up again in the dark ready for our last shoot – this time at the northern end of Myall Beach, just south of the Cape (Tribulation) itself. We entered a beach with its features hardly visible, making our way along in the quarter light to the spot we’d chosen the evening before. Contentedly, we shot away while Johnny explored a bit. He came back with the news that there were fresh crocodile prints in the sand about twenty metres from where we were standing. The croc must have left this location only a very short time before we arrived. I learned from Instagram that Cape Tribulation Beach was closed that day due to a crocodile that had decided to swim there. I guess that was “our guy”, who had moved up one beach to avoid the approaching paparazzi.